Welcome to the jungle: Corin turns 8

Corin loves monkeys and requested a jungle party this year. My brother’s family came for the weekend, which meant lots of great cousin time for the kiddos. March 18 fell on a Sunday, so we got to celebrate on his actual birthday with the family and a few friends from school. We had a great time, and I enjoyed getting to know his friends a little better. They are sweet kids, and I loved seeing how much fun Corin had with them. The day started cloudy and cold, but the sun came out just long enough for the party. It was a great start to a new year of life for the boy who made me a mama.

Also: A huge thank you to all the family who pitched in and helped me pull everything together. I could NOT have gotten it done alone.

 

 

 

 

 

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Farewell, Tennyson

We said good-bye to a member of our family yesterday. Tennyson came into our lives 14 1/2 years ago, wobbly, fuzzy, with a head as big as his body. Yesterday, he left our lives as Tennyson and hippoJon and I held him and murmured our good-byes, freeing him from the cancer eating at his body.

He was never the world’s best dog. In fact, he could have given Marley of Marley and Me: Life and Love with the World’s Worst Dog a run for his money. He ate entire socks, underwear, and the center stone to my engagement ring (yes, really). He peed on every bed we ever bought him. He destroyed every toy, including the ones billed for “tough chewers.” Early on, he developed an eye condition that required surgery at a veterinary ophthalmologist (price tag: cha-ching). He dug through visitors’ purses and luggage for Backpacking Tennysonanything in the neighborhood of edible. He shed twice a year like it was his job. He dug through the bathroom trash. He never did learn to heel or fetch. He was a born explorer, compelled to sniff every nook and cranny, and thus an incorrigible wanderer. He demonstrated a go-go-gadget ability to reach items on kitchen counters that seemed well beyond his reach, inhaling his reward packaging and all.

In fact, he was such a pain that I’ve been caught off guard by how brutal this is. The reel of memories has been playing hard these last hours: the backpacking trips where he cheerfully carried his own gear and, against all odds, proved to be a great trail dog; the pressure of his weight as he leaned against me; the years he provided comfort as our Tennyson and Samibaby when we were struggling to have one of our own; the few years he shared with our second beagle, Sami, before she left us too soon; his head buried inside a doggie stocking on Christmas mornings; tripping over him every evening as I cooked dinner; the jangle of his tags as he followed me from room to room, never wanting to be far from his humans; his presence in a thousand unremarkable moments, part of the fabric of our lives for nearly all of our adulthood, woven into the fabric of our family from its start.

So, now we learn how to be a family without him. Lina looked out the glass door at the rain this morning and told Jon we needed to let Tennyson in. When Jon reminded her that Tennyson is gone, she said “Tennyson is dead,” and her lip trembled. Corin has internalized a

Family photo fall 2010

Photo: Katie Schoepflin Photography

lot, as he tends to do, but choked up last night at bedtime as we talked about what he would miss most.

At these times, I always wonder why we do this to ourselves. Why do we sign up for the inevitable heartbreak of losing a pet that becomes a member of the family? I suppose the answer is contained in the grief. We have 14 years of memories that remain.

Rest well, Tennyson. You weren’t a good dog, but you loved and were loved well.

3.21

Today – 3.21 for three copies of the 21st chromosome – is World Down Syndrome Awareness Day. I love this day. Our family likes to wear mismatched socks to celebrate the differences that color our world. Friends and family send pictures of their crazy socks. My Facebook feed fills with celebrations and photos of kids and adults with that something extra. It is beautiful.

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Thanks to a packed schedule, only Lina and I got our sock photo.

Jon and I kicked off the day by attending Lina’s kindergarten transition meeting at the school she’ll be attending in August. This was the first time we met the new team that will be taking over her therapies and support services as she leaves early childhood preschool and begins her elementary experience at our school of zone. It felt like a pretty big deal, which is why you could have found me at our local FedEx at 9:30 last night, having a one-page flyer printed.

If you’ve followed along these past three years, you know that Lina’s preschool experience has been phenomenal. She has attended four half-days a week in an early childhood blended classroom of peer models and students with special education needs. There are four adults in the room of about 12 students: either the occupational or speech therapist (each two days a week), a special education teacher and two aides. The kids receive a tremendous amount of individualized attention and support.

We are very lucky to live in a district that believes in inclusive education for students Version 3with disabilities. In fact, the elementary schools in our county don’t have self-contained special education classrooms. Lina will be pulled out for brief periods for special ed instruction in reading and math and small group speech therapy but will do the vast majority of her learning in a general education classroom. She will receive support from a paraprofessional who stays with the class full-time.

All of this is awesome. It’s why we moved to this district. It’s also overwhelming. This is a whole new world for our girl. The change from four half-days to five full days is big enough. But now, Lina will also be one kid in a class of at least 20, needing to keep up with generalized instruction, transitions to other parts of the school for specials (like art, music and P.E.), navigating the lunch room, the bigger playground… It’s a lot, and this mama’s heart contracts every time I think about it.

But, this is what we’ve been working towards for the past three years. This is the process of parenting, that gradual letting go, of sending our kids out into an ever broadening world. Lina’s current preschool educational team has spent long hours updating her evaluations, preparing her IEP (which prescribes her special ed goals and supports), communicating with the new team and ensuring the right supports will be in place. Jon and I have spent three different meetings over the past two weeks going over those goals, providing feedback, suggesting changes, developing a behavioral plan, helping the new team get to know our girl and her strengths and challenges. Months before she begins kindergarten, an entire village is pouring effort into providing everything Lina needs to learn. I get weepy when I think about the dedication of these teachers and staff, who are paid a fraction of what they deserve. Together, we and these remarkable teams are laying the foundation for Lina’s future. The dreams we have for her of college, meaningful employment, independent living: they start here.¬†IMG_3659

So, on this 3.21, I am grateful, and yes, a little heartsore. My baby is growing up, but I know that’s the job. Sending her into the world is never going to not be scary, but I am moved yet again by the size and heart of our village. From friends and family who put on their crazy socks (literally and metaphorically) to the teachers and therapists who work day after day to equip her for success, Lina has an army at her back. That may be the greatest gift of all in this journey.